‘Next phase’ of criminal probe into Trump finances: Finding witnesses

Investigators in a criminal probe of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s real-estate business are combing through millions of pages of newly acquired records with an eye toward identifying witnesses who can bring the documents to life for a jury, say two people familiar with the probe.

Some of the case’s key figures are well-known. Trump’s former attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, met on Friday with prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, his eighth such interview. And District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr’s team is interested in getting testimony from the Trump Organization’s long time chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, according to the two people familiar with the investigation.

But a growing universe of people, institutions and agencies are being scrutinized by Vance’s prosecutors as potential witnesses in the case.

Prosecutors are looking to gather information and testimony from bankers, bookkeepers, real-estate consultants and others close to the Trump Organization who could provide insights on its dealings, according to interviews and court filings. The process of identifying all witnesses and targets could take months.

“The next phase is identifying targets” for subpoenas and testimony, said one person familiar with the case.

Vance has not accused Trump or his associates of wrongdoing but is examining, among other things, whether property values were manipulated to reduce Trump’s taxes or obtain other economic benefits. The case is being heard by a grand jury that will decide whether there is evidence to indict Trump or his associates.

Vance’s investigators need insiders who can provide the narrative behind any conflicting numbers on Trump’s financial records and testify to Trump’s knowledge and intent, said former prosecutors of white-collar fraud cases.

“Even in the most heavily document-dependent case, you need witnesses to tell the story,” said Reed Brodsky, a longtime white-collar defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor.

The Supreme Court forced Trump’s longtime accountants Mazars USA to comply with a subpoena on March 1. Since then, investigators have poured through Trump’s tax filings, business documents and internal correspondence, looking for discrepancies between information provided to creditors and data given to tax authorities, said two people familiar with the probe.

Forensic accounting specialists at FTI Consulting Inc, retained by Vance, are helping analyze the tax records, said a source with knowledge of the matter.

Vance’s investigation is one of two known criminal probes of the former president. Reuters has identified four other ongoing investigations involving Trump and at least 17 active lawsuits.

A lawyer for Trump declined to comment on the probes.

In Vance’s investigation, Mark Pomerantz, a former federal prosecutor hired last month as a special assistant, is leading the interviews with some witnesses. Pomerantz, 69, prosecuted Gambino crime family boss John Gotti’s son in the 1990s and is known for his expertise in white-collar crime.

ACCOUNTANTS, APPRAISERS

Several potential key figures in Vance’s investigation are current or former employees of outside companies – from financial and real estate consultants to legal advisors – with inside knowledge of Trump’s dealings, according to court filings and the two people familiar with the investigation.

Some performed crucial roles for many years, such as Mazars accountant Donald Bender. His signature is on the tax returns of the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which was dissolved in 2018 after a probe by the New York attorney general found that the organization misused charitable funds. Trump was ordered to pay more than $2 million in damages.

Bender has led the team managing Trump’s accounts at Mazars for more than a decade, court records show. He has worked for Mazars since 1981 and helps steer its real-estate practice. Mazars’ predecessor companies began working for Trump’s father, Fred, in the 1950s.

Bender was the only Mazars’ accountant singled out by name in Vance’s subpoena seeking records between 2011 and 2018, including “all communications” between Donald Bender and any representative of Trump’s businesses.

Illustrating Bender’s importance in Trump’s empire, Weisselberg testified in 2008 that, when Trump met with representatives from Forbes magazine to discuss his net worth, Weisselberg made sure Bender was there to help answer questions.

Bender and Mazars did not respond to requests for comment.

Real estate brokerage Cushman & Wakefield Plc, which worked for the Trump Organization for many years, could also figure prominently in Vance’s investigation, legal experts say. Chicago-based Cushman was subpoenaed in a separate New York state attorney general’s probe of Trump’s company, and Cushman staff have given sworn testimony.

Both probes have shown keen interest in the values that Trump attached to conservation easements – agreements to preserve open space on his properties in exchange for tax breaks, court records show.

Based on a Cushman appraisal, Trump claimed a $21.1 million value for an easement at his Seven Springs estate north of New York City, based on the lost profits from luxury homes he could have built. Cushman was also the appraiser on a $25 million easement at a Trump golf course in Los Angeles that has been scrutinized in the attorney general’s investigation.

Cushman did not respond to a request for comment.

Vance’s investigators have also requested records and spoken with officials from Trump’s two biggest creditors, Deutsche Bank AG and Ladder Capital Corp, Reuters has previously reported. Both firms declined to comment.

THE INSIDERS

Vance’s investigation will likely rely heavily on Trump’s closest associates – people who can address the key question of what Trump was thinking when he made the financial claims now under scrutiny. Only a core group of Trump’s confidantes can address that state-of-mind question, which is critical to proving criminal intent.

They include Weisselberg, 73, who began working for Trump’s father, Fred, in 1973. Legal experts and a source familiar with the investigation say prosecutors’ apparent goal is to convince Weisselberg to cooperate. Also under scrutiny are Weisselberg’s adult sons – one who has worked for the Trump Organization. The other son worked for Ladder Capital, though there’s no evidence he was involved in Ladder’s loans to Trump.

Vance has not said whether prosecutors are talking with Allen Weisselberg or his sons. None of the three Weisselbergs have been charged with wrongdoing. A lawyer for Allen Weisselberg declined to comment.

Jennifer Weisselberg – the former wife of Allen’s older son, Barry Weisselberg – told Reuters that she has spoken with Vance’s office five times since November. The day after the first interview, she said, DA investigators visited her to retrieve tax and financial records for her and her former husband.

She acknowledged that prosecutors have shown interest in an apartment in a Trump-owned building where she and her former husband lived rent-free for seven years – an arrangement that could have legal implications if it represented compensation not properly reported in tax filings.

Barry Weisselberg managed an ice-skating rink that Trump operates in Central Park. A lawyer representing him did not respond to a request for comment.

Jennifer Weisselberg said she believed her father-in-law would never testify against Trump voluntarily. She envisions Allen Weisselberg flipping only if he or his sons are facing prosecution. But no one, she said, knows more about Trump’s finances.

The most visible cooperator in the criminal investigation is Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer for nearly a decade. He is serving a three-year sentence after pleading guilty in 2018 to crimes including tax evasion, orchestrating “hush money” payments to two women who said they’d had affairs with Trump, and lying to Congress about negotiations over a proposed Trump development in Moscow that never materialized. Cohen is in home confinement due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump has attacked Cohen’s credibility by highlighting how he lied under oath. Legal experts say Trump’s attorneys could make similar arguments if Cohen becomes a key witness. At his sentencing, Cohen took “full responsibility” for his actions but claimed he made the payments at Trump’s direction.

Cohen told Reuters he has evidence to overcome any questions about his credibility. “Unfortunately for Trump, I have backed up each and every question posed by the district attorney’s office,” Cohen said, by providing “documentary evidence.”

If prosecutors can corroborate Cohen’s testimony, his story could be “very powerful before a jury,” said Brodsky, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. “The government loves people who plead guilty to crimes, take the stand and say … ‘I participated in a crime with that person sitting right there at the defense table, Donald J. Trump.’”

Source: Reuters

Mar-a-Lago: ‘Covid outbreak’ at Trump’s Florida residence

Donald Trump’s main residence, Mar-a-Lago, has been partially closed after some staff members tested positive for Covid-19, US media report.

The Florida resort has served as the former president’s official residence since he left office in January.

The club said in a statement that the Beach Club and a la carte dining room were closed, but did not specify how many people had tested positive.

Mr Trump had coronavirus last October, and was vaccinated in January.

At the time of his diagnosis, he was hospitalised for several days and treated with the low-dose steroid treatment dexamethasone. 

His wife Melania Trump and son Barron also tested positive for the virus, as did several White House officials close to the then-president.

Donald Trump
image captionMr Trump was hospitalised with Covid-19 last October

In an email to members obtained by the Washington Post, Mar-a-Lago said it was following “all appropriate response measures” and its banquet and event services would remain open.

In January, images surfaced from a New Year’s Eve party at Mar-a-Lago that showed a number of guests not wearing masks. The resort was handed a formal warning by Palm Beach County which said the event had violated coronavirus regulations.

The New York Times reports that the club is planning to host events during the Republican National Committee spring retreat next month.

Donald Trump’s wealth takes tumble during presidency

Donald Trump’s net worth dropped by about $700m to $2.3bn (£1.65bn) during his time as president, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

The Covid-19 pandemic hit his fortunes hard, with Mr Trump’s office buildings, branded hotels and resorts losing revenue and falling in value.

His fleet of planes and golf courses have also seen drops in their value.

Mr Trump is currently under a criminal investigation into his financial affairs and his family business.

Bloomberg analysed financial documents and other filings from May 2016 and January 2021 to calculate Mr Trump’s wealth before and after he became US president.

Mr Trump’s commercial real estate accounts for about three-quarters of his net worth. The office towers he owns or co-owns have seen big drops in valuations as more people work from home, a trend that could last in the long term.

Bloomberg, which provides financial news and data, estimates a 26% drop in the value of his main commercial property holdings.

He also owns, manages or licenses his name to about a dozen hotels and resorts, plus 19 golf courses.

Although golf has become popular during the pandemic as a socially distanced outdoor sport, Mr Trump’s two courses in Scotland have consistently lost money, filings show. 

After the Capitol Hill siege in January, the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) of America ended an agreement to host its 2022 championship tournament at Mr Trump’s New Jersey golf course, saying it would hurt the group’s brand.

Deutsche Bank, the only bank willing to lend to him after his bankruptcies in the 1990s, also said after the riots that it would not do business with him again.

Mr Trump also owns a fleet of planes that includes a Boeing 757. These planes are decades old and have been marked down in value over the years, according to financial disclosures seen by Bloomberg.

Seven planes were valued at around $59m in 2015 and five were valued at about $6.5m in 2020. The value of Mr Trump’s aircraft has dropped over the years, in part because he has sold some of his fleet.

Criminal investigation

During his presidency, Mr Trump’s finances were regularly in the spotlight and he has been very secretive about how much tax he pays.

Last month the Supreme Court ordered Mr Trump to hand over his tax returns and other financial records to prosecutors in New York.

For months they have been trying to obtain eight years’ worth of Mr Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns.

The investigation was originally started in 2018 to examine the Trump Organization’s role in hush-money payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to two women who said they had had affairs with Mr Trump.

Book deal?

As a former president, Donald Trump can expect to sign some lucrative media deals to recover some of his lost wealth, such as a post-presidential memoir.

Barack and Michelle Obama reportedly got paid about $65m for their memoirs, while Bill Clinton earned a $15m advance for his 2004 book. 

Bloomberg says the most obvious way Mr Trump can profit post-presidency is with a news channel or social media platform that would appeal to his 74m voters in the 2020 election.

Donald Trump ordered to hand over tax returns to prosecutors

Donald Trump has been ordered by the US Supreme Court to hand over his tax returns and other financial records to prosecutors in New York. 

The former US president has been refusing to release the documents for several years, despite a precedent that presidential candidates should do so.

A lower court had earlier ruled that the records were pertinent to a criminal investigation.

The ruling does not necessarily mean the files will be made public.

The financial documents should be provided as evidence to a grand jury to be scrutinised in secret, and might only later become public as part of an indictment. 

A grand jury is set up by a prosecutor to determine whether there is enough evidence to pursue a prosecution. The jury is given investigative powers and can issue subpoenas to compel people to testify.

The US Supreme Court’s decision is a blow to Mr Trump, who has been in a legal battle to protect his records from a grand jury for months.

Last July, the Supreme Court ruled that Mr Trump’s financial records could be examined by prosecutors in New York.

But lawyers representing Mr Trump challenged that ruling, suggesting that the court filing was “wildly overbroad” and issued in bad faith.

On Monday, the court rejected the lawyers’ argument. 

According to US media, this was the last opportunity for the former president, who left the White House last month ahead of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, to keep the records private. 

Mr Trump has continuously denied wrongdoing and has called the investigation into his tax affairs a “witch hunt”.

In a statement on Monday, Mr Trump accused New York prosecutors of unfairly targeting him and said that the Supreme Court “never should have let this ‘fishing expedition’ happen”. 

What’s the background to this?

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, a Democrat, has been trying for months to obtain eight years’ worth of Mr Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns. 

Mr Vance has been investigating allegations surrounding the payment of hush money before the 2016 presidential election to two women who said they had had sexual relationships with Mr Trump. 

The district attorney has said that the tax returns and financial records are pertinent to the case.

It is alleged that the payments were made by Mr Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

Mr Trump denies the affairs took place and described the Supreme Court’s ruling last July as “purely political”.

Lawyers for Mr Vance later said the inquiry would extend beyond purported hush money payments. 

They citied newspaper articles about supposed bank and insurance fraud at the Trump Organization and congressional testimony by Cohen, who said the former president would devalue his assets when trying to reduce his taxes.

Mr Trump, who inherited money from his father and went on to become a property developer, is the first president since Richard Nixon in the 1970s not to have made his tax returns public.

Trump impeachment: lawyers deny he encouraged capitol riots

Lawyers for Donald Trump have responded to his impeachment charges, saying supporters of the former US president stormed Congress in Washington DC on 6 January of their own accord.

Mr Trump’s trial in the Senate is due to begin on Tuesday after he was impeached for the second time by the House of Representatives last month.

He is charged with “inciting insurrection” in a speech to supporters ahead of the deadly riot.

Mr Trump says he will not testify.

Five people, including a police officer, died when a mob of Trump supporters attacked the Capitol building, forcing politicians and staff to hide in offices.

Mr Trump is the only US president in history to have been impeached twice and one of only three to have been impeached at all.

In a pre-trial brief released on Monday, the former president’s lawyers said that FBI documents had shown that the riot was planned days in advance, meaning that Mr Trump cannot have encouraged the violence.

They also insist the trial is unconstitutional because Mr Trump has left office and is now a private citizen.

They hit out at the nine “impeachment managers” – Democrats from the House of Representatives who will lay out the case for prosecution – accusing them of “intellectual dishonesty and factual vacuity” in the way they portrayed Mr Trump’s address to his supporters.

“This impeachment proceeding was never about seeking justice,” the lawyers wrote.

“Instead, this was only ever a selfish attempt by Democratic leadership in the House to prey upon the feelings of horror and confusion that fell upon all Americans across the entire political spectrum upon seeing the destruction at the Capitol on January 6 by a few hundred people.” 

Democrats say Mr Trump’s repeated refusal to concede last November’s presidential election to Joe Biden – as well as the fiery rhetoric he used in his address to supporters on 6 January – encouraged the riot. 

His lawyers argue that Mr Trump was simply exercising his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.

In their own response later on Monday, the House impeachment managers reasserted that Mr Trump had “betrayed the American people”.

“His incitement of insurrection against the United States government – which disrupted the peaceful transfer of power – is the most grievous constitutional crime ever committed by a president,” their statement said.

What will happen on Tuesday?

The trial is expected to begin with a four-hour debate and then a vote on whether the proceedings are unconstitutional.

If it proceeds – as it is expected to – opening debates will begin on Wednesday afternoon with both sides allowed up to 16 hours each for presentations. 

However, for the Senate to convict Mr Trump a two-thirds majority is required meaning 17 Republicans would need to join the chamber’s 50 Democrats in the vote. 

On 26 January, a bid to dismiss the case as unconstitutional was backed by 45 of the Senate’s 50 Republicans.

Trump supporters outside the Capitol
image captionThe storming of the US Capitol shocked the nation

What is the case for prosecution?

The former president is accused of “incitement of insurrection against the Republic he swore to protect” – namely the storming of the Capitol by his supporters as Congress met to confirm the result of the 3 November election. 

Mr Trump’s “statements turned his ‘wild’ rally on 6 January into a powder keg waiting to blow”, Democrats said in a pre-trial briefing.

They are expected to put before the Senate Mr Trump’s words – and footage from the riot – to show that “the furious crowd” was “primed (and prepared) for violence if he lit a spark”.

“The evidence is clear,” they wrote. “When other attempts to overturn the presidential election failed, former President Trump incited an attack on the Capitol.”

They argue that although he is no longer in office, “a president must answer comprehensively for his conduct in office from his first day in office through his last”.

They call for him to be disqualified from ever running for office again.

Trump awaits trial in the Senate

Donald Trump has been impeached – again. So what now?

Donald Trump waves as he walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on 12 January
image captionDonald Trump became the first US president to be impeached twice

The former president is the first in US history to have been charged with misconduct – or impeached – twice by the lower chamber of US Congress.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives accused Mr Trump of encouraging violence with his false claims of election fraud and egging on a mob to storm the Capitol on 6 January.

Some Republicans also backed impeachment in that historic vote.

What happens next?

Mr Trump, a Republican, now faces trial in the upper chamber, the Senate. 

A two-thirds majority in the Senate means a conviction. 

If Mr Trump is convicted, senators could also vote to bar him from ever holding public office again.

OK, when is the trial?

It is set to start next month.

Before that, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, needs to send the article of impeachment – the charge of incitement laid out and approved by the lower chamber – to the Senate.

She is set to do that on 25 January. According to the Constitution, that triggers the trial phase which must begin by 13:00 (local) the following day.

But the new Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer has agreed to a request from the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, for more time during the pre-trial phase. So the trial itself will begin on 9 February.

Can he be tried now he has left?

It’s never happened before so it’s untested and the US Constitution doesn’t say.

Impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon were ended when he quit in 1974.

So Mr Trump could take his case to the Supreme Court, claiming his trial was unconstitutional.

Some lower ranked officials have been impeached after leaving office.

Would Mr Trump be convicted in the Senate?

Democrats only hold half the 100 seats so they would require 17 Republicans to vote against someone from their own party.

That’s a tall order from a party that has largely remained publicly loyal to Mr Trump.

But 10 Republicans in the House supported impeachment and a couple of senators have indicated they are open to it.

Even Mitch McConnell says he has not yet made up his mind how he will vote.

Could Trump run for president again if convicted?

If he is convicted by the Senate, lawmakers could hold another vote to block him from running for elected office again – which he had indicated he planned to do in 2024. 

This could be the biggest consequence of this impeachment.

If he is convicted, a simple majority of senators would be needed to block Mr Trump from holding “any office of honour, trust or profit under the United States”.

So 50 senators plus a casting vote from Vice-President Kamala Harris would be enough to damn Mr Trump’s hopes of political power.

This could be appealing to Republicans hoping to run for president in the future and those who want Mr Trump out of the party.

What about other benefits?

There has been talk of Mr Trump losing benefits granted to his predecessors under the 1958 Former Presidents Act, which include a pension and health insurance, and potentially a lifetime security detail at taxpayers’ expense. 

However, Mr Trump is likely to keep these benefits if he is convicted after leaving office.

What was his first impeachment for again?

That was over his dealings with Ukraine, although he denied any wrongdoing.

He was accused of pressing the country’s leader to open an investigation into Mr Biden, then his emerging rival for the White House, and his son Hunter.

Mr Trump appeared to use military aid as leverage. He was impeached by the House and cleared by the then Republican-controlled Senate.

Biden reverses controversial US travel bans

US President Joe Biden has begun to undo some of Donald Trump’s key policies, hours after being sworn in, including ending the travel ban on some majority-Muslim countries.

His proclamation said that the US “was built on a foundation of religious freedom and tolerance, a principle enshrined in the United States Constitution”.

“Nevertheless, the previous administration enacted a number of executive orders and presidential proclamations that prevented certain individuals from entering the United States – first from primarily Muslim countries, and later, from largely African countries. 

“Those actions are a stain on our national conscience and are inconsistent with our long history of welcoming people of all faiths and no faith at all.” 

Mr Trump signed a controversial travel ban just seven days after taking office as US president in January 2017, arguing it was vital to protect Americans. 

People from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Venezuela, and North Korea were banned from obtaining any kind of visa. Chad was taken off this list in 2019. Last February, citizens of six more countries were barred from obtaining certain types of visas, including those from Eritrea, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tanzania. 

Mr Biden said the actions of Mr Trump’s administration had undermined national security. 

“They have jeopardised our global network of alliances and partnerships and are a moral blight that has dulled the power of our example the world over. And they have separated loved ones, inflicting pain that will ripple for years to come. They are just plain wrong.” 

But the new president said the US would still take threats to the country seriously. 

“When visa applicants request entry to the United States, we will apply a rigorous, individualised vetting system. But we will not turn our backs on our values with discriminatory bans on entry into the United States.”

Biden inauguration: New president sworn in amid Trump snub

Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th US president, ending one of the most dramatic political transitions in American history.

“Democracy has prevailed,” he said after taking the oath of office from Chief Justice John Roberts.

Outgoing President Donald Trump, who has not formally conceded to Mr Biden, is not attending the ceremony.

The new president has announced a raft of executive orders aimed at reversing Mr Trump’s key policies.

Vice-President-elect Harris was sworn in ahead of Mr Biden – becoming the first woman and the first black and Asian-American person elevated to serve in a role a heartbeat from the presidency.

The inauguration is taking place at the US Capitol. There is extra-tight security after the building was stormed by violent pro-Trump protesters in a deadly riot on 6 January.

Some 25,000 National Guards are protecting the inauguration ceremony, which is missing the traditional hundreds of thousands of spectators because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Trump left the White House for the last time as president shortly after 08:00 (13:00 GMT). He boarded a helicopter, flew to the nearby Andrews Air Force base, and has now arrived in Florida.

He is the first president not to attend his successor’s inauguration since 1869.

How is inauguration day unfolding?

Early on Wednesday Mr Biden attended Mass at a cathedral in Washington – along with four Roman Catholic congressional leaders, both Democrats and Republicans – before making his way to the Capitol. 

Age 78, Mr Biden is the oldest US president ever to be sworn in. In his inaugural address, he said it was a day of “history and hope”.

Among those attending the ceremony are three of his predecessors: Barack Obama – under whom Mr Biden served for eight years as vice-president – Bill Clinton and George W Bush.

Outgoing Vice-President Mike Pence is also attending the ceremony. He skipped Mr Trump’s farewell military salute event at Andrews base.

Aides say Mr Biden will use his inaugural address of about half an hour to deliver an optimistic call for national unity after his Republican predecessor’s turbulent tenure.

President-elect Joe Biden and Jill Biden attend services at the Cathedral of St Matthew in Washington, DC
image captionJoe Biden and his wife Jill attended a church service ahead of the inauguration

The ceremony includes musical performances by Lady Gaga – who sang the national anthem – as well as Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks.

An evening concert at the Lincoln Memorial in the city will be hosted by Tom Hanks and include Bruce Springsteen, John Legend, Jon Bon Jovi, Justin Timberlake, and Demi Lovato.

What is Trump doing?

In his address at Andrews Air Force base the outgoing president highlighted what he regarded as the successes of his presidency. “What we’ve done has been amazing by any standard,” Mr Trump said.

The 74-year-old flew off to begin post-presidential life at his Mar-a-Lago golf club in Palm Beach.

In his last hours, Mr Trump granted clemency to more than 140 people, including his former adviser Steve Bannon, who had been facing fraud charges.

The political drama surrounding Mr Trump is far from over. The US Senate is expected to put him on trial soon, following his record second impeachment by the House of Representatives for allegedly inciting the Capitol riot.

On Tuesday, the Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, said the mob had been provoked by Mr Trump and fed lies.

What will Biden do on his first day?

Mr Biden has set out a flurry of executive orders. In a statement on Wednesday he said he would sign 15 orders after he is sworn in. They will:

  • Reverse Mr Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the Paris climate accord
  • Revoke the presidential permit granted to the Keystone XL Pipeline, which is opposed by environmentalists and Native American groups
  • Revoke Trump policies on immigration enforcement and the emergency declaration that helped fund the construction of a Mexican border wall
  • Bring about a mask and distancing mandate for federal employees and in federal buildings, and a new White House office on coronavirus
  • End a travel ban on visitors from some, mainly Muslim, nations

Other orders will cover race and gender equality, along with climate issues.

Mr Biden’s vice-president will swear in three new Democratic senators on Wednesday, leaving the upper chamber of Congress evenly split between the two main parties. This will allow the vice-president to act as a tie-breaker in key votes. 

Mr Biden’s legislative ambitions could be tempered by the slender majorities he holds in both the Senate and House of Representatives. 

On Tuesday, Mr Biden delivered a speech in his home state of Delaware, telling reporters “these are dark times… but there’s always light”, before heading to Washington.

In the evening, he and Ms Harris led a tribute at the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial to the 400,000 Americans lost to Covid-19.

They were almost alone on the National Mall, where some 200,000 flags have been planted to represent the crowds who will be absent at Wednesday’s inauguration.

What’s the mood like in Washington? 

Some 25,000 National Guard troops are guarding the Capitol, White House and National Mall, which are also protected by a ring of steel made up of barricades and tall fencing.

Ahead of Mr Biden’s arrival in the city, 12 National Guard members were removed from the presidential inauguration security mission after they were found to have ties with right-wing militia groups or posted extremist views online. 

There was no threat to Mr Biden, officials said.

Ex-Google engineer among those pardoned by Donald Trump

A former Google engineer sentenced to 18 months in prison is among those pardoned by US President Donald Trump as he leaves office.

Anthony Levandowski stole information about self-driving cars before setting up autonomous lorry company Otto.

The pardon was supported by Silicon Valley figures including investor Peter Thiel and Oculus founder Palmer Luckey.

At the time of sentencing, in August, the judge said it was “the biggest trade-secret crime I have ever seen”.

But Judge Alsup also called Levandowski “a brilliant, ground-breaking engineer that our country needs”.

‘Significant price’

That was quoted in the outgoing Trump administration’s memo justifying the pardon.

Levandowski had “paid a significant price for his actions and plans to devote his talents to advance the public good”, it added.

In the final hours of his presidency, Mr Trump pardoned 73 people, including his former adviser Steve Bannon.

Levandowski had not started his sentence because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

As an employee, he downloaded more than 14,000 files containing the intellectual property of Google’s former self-driving car division, Waymo, before leaving to found Otto, which was soon acquired by Uber.

Levandowski went on to run Uber’s self-driving project, only to be fired in 2017 over the case.

He denied the charges against him.

In February 2017, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, sued Uber over the theft in a case eventually settled in 2018.